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Ignore at Your Own Risk: Bounded Decision Making

We are imperfect decision makers.  Much has been written about this in the past ten years.  There is something about our brains that makes what should be a rational process, an irrational one–and without us knowing it.  Being attentive to these subconscious “cognitive missteps” can help us avoid making poor decisions, especially when it really matters.

“How did I  miss that?”

One problem we have in this regard is our tendency to ignore important, even critical information that is relevant to making a quality decision.  This phenomenon is known as “Bounded Awareness.”  You’ve heard the expression, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  That is the effect of bounded awareness.  And most of us don’t know the ways in which our awareness is deficient.

Max Bazerman and Dolly Chugh offer these four ways in which our awareness of information is bounded:

  1. Failure to See information–not knowing what you should be looking for.

  2. Failure to Seek information–not searching or looking for information that challenges consensus opinion.

  3. Failure to Use information–disregarding information that is valuable and readily accessible.

  4. Failure to Share information–not communicating information that is unique and known by one group, person, team, etc. with others.

What do they recommend to overcome these cognitive boundaries? 

  1. See information–know what you are looking for.  Ask questions that will open your eyes to areas you are normally unaware of.  Ask someone to give you an outsider’s perspective

  2. Seek information–don’t settle for confirming information.  Look for evidence that contradicts the recommended action.  Assign a person the “devil’s inquisitor” role who asks questions that challenge the accepted position.

  3. Use information–make sure you are not focusing on one set of data and disregarding other relevant information.  Consider the full context of the issue.  Look for relevant information within your organization. 

  4. Share information–Unique information exists. Deliberately ask for it from others.  Make one person responsible for putting together relevant data from a variety of sources.

Finally, challenge the status quo.  Ask “Why not?”

So, don’t limit yourself and ignore what you need to know.  Instead, let the truth of Bounded Awareness set you FREE.

Jim Dittmar

Dr. James Dittmar is the Founder, President, and CEO of the 3Rivers Leadership Institute which began in 2014.  Prior to this Jim founded the award-winning Geneva College M.S. in Or


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